Steelers Draft: Apple, Alexander or Jackson

May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) walks to the stage after being selected as the number fifteen overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
May 8, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) walks to the stage after being selected as the number fifteen overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

As the 2016 NFL draft inches closer, there is a building anticipation as to whom the Steelers will take with their first round pick.  Pittsburgh has hosted and visited with numerous prospects and it’s a virtual given that they will be looking to bolster the cornerback position.

Other positions have been suggested but, in truth, unless there is an extreme run on cornerbacks or unless a top 10 talent slides to #25, the Steelers WILL draft a cornerback in round one.  Yes, we could use depth at defensive tackle.  Yes, we could use a safety.  But this draft will be deep with defensive tackles and the strength of this years safety class lies in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

We will draft a cornerback in the first round….but which one?

Jalen Ramsey is the best defensive back in this class and though he may be pegged as a cornerback by some teams,  most boards will list him as a free safety.  He is also a top 5 pick and the Steelers won’t even be within sniffing range of him.  Vernon Hargreaves is the best true cornerback this year but wont make it past the top 15 picks.  That leaves three potential cornerback prospects who all have a first round grade and have at least some chance of being available when it becomes the Steelers turn to pick: Eli Apple of Ohio state, Mackensie Alexander of Clemson, and William Jackson III of Houston.

Lets take an in-depth look at all three and look at why the Steelers may or may not draft them.

Eli Apple of Ohio State

Apple was a 2015 All-Big Ten second team selection by the coaches and received an honorable mention by the media.  He was also the Defensive MVP of the Buckeyes’ Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame.  He is a 6’1 and 199 pound prospect with experience at man and zone coverage.  He shows great athleticism and has a smooth transition from his back pedal to coverage.  Aggressive in both run support and pass coverage, which is good as a general rule but also creates bad angles at times and causes him to be too grabby with receivers.  The Ohio State prospect is a competitor and possesses a very strong work ethic.  He ran a 4.40 forty at the combine and an impressive 4.34 at his pro day workout.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers would love for Apple to slide.  They would covet his length, speed, aggression and his experience in both man and zone coverage.  Pittsburgh will take a long look at his 5 passing interference calls in college, but since Eli Apple is only a 20-year-old prospect, there is plenty of time for improvement and his ceiling is extremely high.  The biggest reason the Steelers may not draft him is that he simply may not make it past the Raiders and Redskins who also need cornerback help.

Mackensie Alexander of Clemson

Alexander was a 2015 first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.  At only 5’10, teams that haven’t done their homework may shy away from the Clemson cornerback. That would be a mistake.  Alexander may be the best pure corner outside of Hargreaves.  He is a quick-twitch athlete with exceptional man coverage skills.  He didn’t record a single interception in college but that is a testament to how much quarterbacks feared throwing to his side of the field.    His technique is polished and he understands the advantage of dutifully watching film of both his opponents and himself.  Alexander is a guaranteed day-one starter.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

If Mackensie Alexander is still on the board (and he very well might be) drafting him should be a no-brainer.  What he lacks in height or elite speed, he more than makes up for in technique and quickness.  He is brash and confident and will undoubtedly rub some fans the wrong way, especially if he doesn’t back it up immediately with strong play.  His biggest drawback would be his lack of experience in zone coverage.   For some teams that may be enough to tip the scales in favor of Apple or Jackson.

William Jackson III of Houston

Jackson is a two-year second team All-American athletic conference selection.  The Houston prospect also led the league in 2015 with 14 passes broken up after racking up 12 in 2014.  He has good height at 6’0 and impressed scouts with a 4.37 forty yard dash at the combine and a 4.32 forty at his pro day workout.  Jackson has elite instincts and understands how to use the sideline to his advantage.  He is aggressive and has an elite first step, often jamming the receiver hard enough to throw them off their route.   Stays in the receivers hip pocket on long passes and seems to be able to climb the ladder against taller players, defending the ball at its highest point.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Jackson has elite speed,  good height, and experience in both man and zone.   His biggest draw back may be in short area quickness where he can get himself into trouble with receivers double moves.  Savvy veterans could have a field day with Jackson if he doesn’t work on his balance and anticipation.  A good defensive secondary coach can help him immensely with a few minor adjustments in technique.  May need a year to really find himself in a complex defensive scheme.  If given a choice of cornerbacks with first round grades, the Steelers are going to have to decide if they have the time to invest in Jackson.

Take a good look at these three prospects. One of them will most assuredly be wearing black and gold when the season starts this next year.  Opinions may vary as to who best fits the team and each you can bet that every draftnick will have their personal favorite.  Any of these three will be an upgrade to a porous Steelers defensive secondary.